Major Dundee (Charlton Heston) is a vainglorious officer busted to the decidedly inglorious job of overseeing prisoners in a fort in New Mexico. An abduction gives him the excuse to mount an expedition into Mexico, chasing the perpetrators and perhaps a shot at greatness. His ragtag posse includes Confederate POWs, notably one Captain Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris), whose intense former friendship with Dundee is tainted with a sense of betrayal on both sides. (Heston and Harris, two actors not known for subtlety, are splendid.) Part Ahab, part Alexander the Great, Dundee leads the expedition away from its purpose and into a near-mythic kind of wandering.
Peckinpah gets everything right--the landscapes, the sneaky humor, the code of men. He also takes time to distinguish the supporting characters, such as Jim Hutton's awkward young officer and Senta Berger's stranded widow. The Peckinpah stock company of amazing character actors is in place, too, including James Coburn, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, L.Q. Jones, and Slim Pickens. It will never be exactly what Peckinpah envisioned, but now Major Dundee rides suspiciously close to greatness. --Robert Horton
The movie does leave a few parts with no conclusion, but overall the film is well worth the watch. Great supporting cast with James Coburn, Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones, Slim Pickens and Senta Berger. Great action with good storyline. Too bad the movie got mangled since it is very good even mangled as it is. To all you Peckinpah fans out there, go out and get this movie!
Heston plays an ambitious Union officer of an Army prison in New Mexico during the last months of the Civil War. When a band of marauding Apache destroy a nearby ranch, its occupants, and a regiment of his own troops, Heston sees a chance to get out of his run-of-the-mill job, for he sees himself as "a professional soldier, not a prison keeper." He assembles a ragtag regiment consisting of civilians, Union officers, negroes, and Confederates to go after the Apache. The pursuit, however, takes Dundee's gang across the Rio Grande into a northern Mexico now occupied by the French. Not only do they have to find the Apache and keep the peace amongst themselves, they also now have to avoid as much contact with the French lancers as well.
The flaws in MAJOR DUNDEE are rather evident. It probably wasn't necessary for a love story involving Heston and a female village doctor (Senta Berger) to be inserted within. And as many reviewers have stated, there are a lot of loose ends in the story that needed connecting, and they all seem to have been left on the cutting room floor. Including them might have made this a 3-hour film instead of just 2 hours and 2 minutes, but MAJOR DUNDEE might actually have been a masterpiece.
Despite the flaws, the film is redeemed by its cast giving solid performances. Heston is, of course, at his best in the title role; yet even he is matched line-for-line by Richard Harris as Tyreen, his former friend and now sworn enemy. James Coburn also contributes a wry line or two as the one-armed scout Sam Potts. There is also Peckinpah's cast of the Usual Suspects here as well: L.Q. Jones, Ben Johnson, R.G. Armstrong, Warren Oates, Slim Pickens, and Dub Taylor. MAJOR DUNDEE also shows Peckinpah willing to stretch the violence angle a bit; the battle scenes are bloody enough to have warranted at least a 'PG-13' rating. He would up the ante in this department considerably when he made THE WILD BUNCH.
To sum it up, MAJOR DUNDEE is a flawed movie, but one that remains compellingly watchable. Filmed almost exclusively on location in Mexico.